Colombo, May 14 (Reuters): The US urged Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers today to attend a donor conference in Tokyo and called on the island’s feuding government and president to speak with one voice on the stalled peace process.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has refused to back down in a power struggle over a state lottery, adding to political turmoil as the government attempts to resuscitate the already limp peace process.
The tension comes after the rebels pulled out of the conference and suspended talks to protest against what they say is a lack of progress in rebuilding war-hit Tamil areas and because they were excluded from a planning meeting for the conference.
”It is in the best interest of the peace process, the Tamil people, and the Tigers themselves that the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) be at the table in Tokyo,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca told a news conference.
The peace process has given Sri Lanka its best chance yet to end the war after the failure of four previous peace bids.
Japan, the island's biggest aid donor, has said the conference, expected to raise $3 billion in aid over three years, would go ahead even if the Tigers stayed away, but without planned high-level political involvement.
Rocca said there were worries that infighting between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga Ä a political rival who was elected separately Ä would hurt efforts to end a two-decade war that has killed 64,000 people.
”We are encouraging both sides to pull together because a united voice at this crucial time in the peace talks is critical for it to move forward successfully,” she said.
The government has been blocking Kumaratunga's bid to take over the running of the lottery, which raises money for a presidential fund for education and other humanitarian work.
It is seen as part of a larger struggle between the president and prime minister for control over the direction of government economic plans and the peace bid.
Kumaratunga says she backs the peace process but accuses Wickremesinghe of conceding too much to the rebels.
Rocca did not meet the rebels during her two-day stay since the United States has banned them as a“terrorist group”.
For that to change, Washington says they must renounce violence,“reject separatism and honour democracy and human rights”.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen arrived on Wednesday for talks with the government and rebels.
Norway, which brokered a ceasefire signed in February 2002, has said it did not expect any breakthroughs from the trip.